The Intentional Ugliness of Separation

eyeLately, some fresh thinking has been going on in the area of biblical separation (especially “ecclesiastical separation”). A much-needed rethinking has begun, and I, for one, am glad to see it.

The rethinking comes with some hazards, though. One is that we’ll only think far enough to unravel some bad ideas and practices of the past then sort of leave the yarn all over the family room floor for some future generation to make into something. Of course, there’s also the danger that, having discovered a flaw or two in the scarf, we’ll unravel well past the flaws and undo the good with the bad—and never quite put it back.

But enough knitting analogies.

One of the matters we need to think further about is what exactly we mean by the term “separation.” To some separatists, separation happens any time we decline to get involved with another leader or another ministry. A few apparently believe this is the case regardless of the reason for not cooperating. Separation is simply the absence of active fellowship.

I argue here that biblical separation is a much weightier act, a punitive and censorious one. Its face is not a petulant sneer but is also not an ambivalent smile given to a neighbor who happens to prefer the other side of the street. The face of biblical separation is a pained and grieving one, even while it is angry and frowning in deep disapproval.

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Ernest Pickering on the Pitfalls of Separatists

quoteSeveral bloggers have recently addressed the subject of separation, suggesting that current leaders such as Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran, and Tim Jordan are moving to a position that contradicts the teaching of an earlier generation of fundamentalists.

In reality, the leaders of the 1960s and 70s did not always agree on the best way to apply biblical teaching about separatism, either. Separatism then and now has always reflected a range of values, with good men differing on particulars as they responded to the issues of their era. For instance, Bob Jones Jr. and Bob Jones III were sharply critical of Pickering’s pamphlet “Baptist Principles Vs. Interdenominationalism.” They later faulted Pickering for accepting speaking engagements from organizations they considered to be new evangelical. The leaders eventually reconciled in the early 1990s, but had rarely spoken to each other for twenty years previous.

Disappointed with the rough-and-tumble disagreements of his era, Pickering concluded his seminal Biblical Separation with a critique of fundamentalism’s well-documented foibles—advice that would have saved us a lot of grief, had we listened. A portion of the book’s conclusion follows.

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The pitfallls of separatists

Separatists are human. They have sins. They are not perfect. While the matters about to be discussed are not problems exclusively for separatists, separatists are especially vulnerable to them by virtue of their unique position.

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Preserving Some Truth

On Friday and Saturday (January 7-8), more than three hundred registered attendees (and about that many more walk-ins for the evening service) gathered for a “symposium on biblical separation.” I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to be among them.

Though the event could be improved in some substantial ways, it was an important step toward developing a biblical separation model that (a) improves on what separatists have practiced in the recent past and (b) functions better in the current evangelical landscape in America.

A significant plus is that this more theologically grounded and thoughtful approach to separatism stands a chance of winning the acceptance of theologically serious young people within fundamentalism (but on their way out) or outside fundamentalism but still listening to its better representatives.

Host pastor Mike Harding described the goal as a “theologically robust” and “biblically consistent” separatism as well as “cultural conservatism.”

What follows is a survey of conference highlights followed by some analysis.

Conference highlights

The event began with two workshop periods of about an hour each. Due to a snow storm I hadn’t anticipated, I missed the first hour and walked in just as the second was about to begin. Since I was late, I just headed straight for the nearest workshop.

It turned out to be one in which Dr. Bruce Compton provided an analysis of Wayne Grudem’s view of the NT gift of prophecy (a non-authoritative and potentially erroneous cousin of the OT gift). Grudem’s view has been foundational for much of current non-cessationist thought about the gifts of the Spirit. Compton’s analysis was interesting and helpful and highlighted some of the unresolved problems with Grudem’s view. The session concluded with brief consideration of whether non-cessationism is a separation issue. Compton’s view was that personal fellowship with non-cessationists was not a problem, but that continuationism’s threat to our belief in a closed canon is serious enough to preclude some other forms of fellowship. He explained that this included avoiding ministry cooperation and pulpit cooperation with non-cessationists.

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Random Thoughts on the Year Ahead

Please consider this post as being intentionally below our usual front page standards. “Intentionally,” because we’re coming off of a holiday and I haven’t completely taken my heels off my desk yet.

What I aim to do here is share some pretty much random thoughts on the year past and the one head from a SharperIron point of view.

The year past

Over all, twenty-ten was not a bad year for SI. Site traffic was down about 3% compared to the year before, but from October 1 on, was higher than the year before by a significant and increasing margin. November increased over October and December increased over November. It’s hard to tell yet whether that represents a trend. But I’m encouraged by the fact that we began 2010 with traffic levels below those of 2009 and finished the year well above them.

Of course, site traffic is kind of like church attendance. It’s just the easiest factor to look at to gauge how you’re doing—not necessarily the most meaningful one.

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Agreeing To Walk Together: What Does Amos 3:3 Really Say About Biblical Separation?

A recent open letter from a college president explaining the reason for inviting speakers previously unwelcome at the school has set off a firestorm of controversy. My only connection with the school is through friendships. At the outset I confess my agreement with the direction the school is taking. I would gladly share the pulpit with the men invited to speak. I would simply like to see a biblical basis for these changes and recognition that past practices, however sincere and well-meaning, went beyond Scripture. In reflecting on my own spiritual journey, I frankly admit that I no longer practice ecclesiastical separation as I did in the past. I have changed my position over the years and believe it is in light of a better understanding of God’s Word. I really believe God changed my position but don’t want to blame Him for any of my imbalances. I have been wrong about some things in the past, am wrong today even if I don’t see it, and will be wrong on some things in the future.

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